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March 6, 2015

Politico Magazine: The Outsider: Elizabeth Warren wants to be the most powerful Democrat in America—without running for president

“Ask Elizabeth Warren for her first impression of Hillary Clinton, and she doesn’t hesitate: She jolts forward to the edge of her seat, snaps her fingers and describes her as “quick!”

“Clinton, of course, craves a more emphatic endorsement from Warren, hoping to bring the Democratic Party’s rising populist firebrand into her 2016 fold as soon as possible. Last year, she praised the Massachusetts senator as “a passionate champion for working people” at a campaign event they both attended; Warren was noticeably cooler and barely even acknowledged Clinton in her remarks. And, in December, Clinton invited a still-noncommittal Warren to her mansion in Washington. (Warren politely but firmly suggested that Clinton needs to take a much tougher line on Wall Street.)

“But the Clinton encounter Warren remembers most vividly was their first, 17 years ago, when Clinton clearly had all the leverage.

“Today, in her airy, high-ceilinged Senate office, Warren recalls being an obscure Harvard Law School professor summoned to deliver a command performance to Clinton backstage at a Boston hotel after the first lady had finished a speech. To this day, she isn’t sure Clinton quite knew who she was; East Wing policy staff simply wanted her to explain a GOP-sponsored bankruptcy bill, then get out. Clinton greeted her briskly, then tucked into a hamburger and fries as Warren launched into a passionate presentation against the bill: Tell the president to veto the damn thing, she said; it was a travesty designed to squeeze “the last couple-tenths of a percent” profit out of hard-pressed women and children who had fallen on tough times as a result of divorce, financial ruin or medical catastrophe.

“I mean this in the nicest possible way: She didn’t know this stuff. … But [she was] one of the smartest people I ever sat down with,” recalls Warren, remembering Clinton peppering her with questions between bites—and pushing the plate to the middle of the table to offer fries. “We get all the way to the end—and I still remember this … she stood up and said, “‘We need to stop that awful bill!’”

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“By the late 1980s, her work was attracting national notice, and Warren moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where she rose quickly. Harvard Law came calling in 1995, and Warren jumped at the opportunity. She cultivated a tough but approachable classroom persona, while branching out into personal finance, which earned her an appearance on “Dr. Phil.” By the late 1990s, she had also become a go-to expert on an array of financial issues and was on the speed dial of congressional staffers. “She’s a lot smarter than most people think she is—and she hasn’t been a stranger to Washington,” says Dennis Kelleher, a former staffer for Ted Kennedy, the late Massachusetts senator who served as Warren’s mentor and legislative partner for a decade.”

***

Read the full Politico Magazine article by Glenn Thrush and Manu Raju here

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